October 27, 2006

Grant to bolster research ethics education

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Elizabeth Heitman, Ph.D.

Grant to bolster research ethics education

Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the National Children's Hospital of Costa Rica will soon be working together through an international partnership in research ethics education.

VUMC's Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society has received a four-year, $780,000 Fogarty International Research Collaboration Award for “Creating Collaborative Research Ethics Education with Costa Rica.”

Elizabeth Heitman, Ph.D., associate professor in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, is the principal investigator.

The Fogarty International Center is the international component of the National Institutes of Health, and addresses global health challenges through innovative and collaborative research and training programs and supports and advances the NIH mission through international partnerships.

“In Costa Rica, there is significant need for capacity building in ethical research design and review of human participant research, consistent with national values and international ethical standards,” Heitman said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the Center for Biomedical Ethics and VUMC to extend our knowledge and enthusiasm and to learn from Costa Rican collaborators who have been thinking about many of the same issues as long as we have, but in a different context.”

The Fogarty Award provides funds to foster international research partnerships between NIH-supported U.S. scientists and their collaborators in countries of the developing world. The program aims to benefit the research interests of both the United States and foreign collaborators while increasing research capacity at the foreign site.

Costa Rica, which is approximately the same size in population and land as Tennessee, has a successful national health system and high level of education. In recent years, interest has grown in research ethics across the country's health system, but so far there is little formal instruction in biomedical or research ethics available in the country's medical schools or research universities.

Several faculty members from VUMC will be involved in the Fogarty project, including Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., Mark Denison, M.D., Mario Rojas, M.D., Margaret Rush, M.D., and Sten Vermund, Ph.D.

The primary Costa Rican collaborators are Abdón Castro, M.D., head of pediatric cardiology and president of the National Children's Hospital Foundation and Rafael Jiménez, M.D., professor of Hematology at the University of Costa Rica and chief of the Research Laboratory at the National Children's Hospital of Costa Rica.

The collaboration will include a series of educational activities and practical training aimed at building and maintaining capacity for ethical design and conduct of biomedical research in Costa Rica, Heitman said.

The collaboration will include a month-long practicum at Vanderbilt for eight Costa Rican research ethics committee directors and two-year postdoctoral fellowships in research and ethics for three Costa Rican physician-scientists. In years two and four, Vanderbilt faculty will travel to Costa Rica to conduct short courses in research ethics for Costa Rican researchers, and to review committee members and biomedical science faculty.

“We are going to be helping to create not just an academic product but an infrastructure for the entire country,” Heitman said.

This is not the first time VUMC and the National Children's Hospital of Costa Rica have worked together. Rojas, who hosted Castro at Children's Hospital in 2004, has been working with Paul Hain, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, to establish a residents' exchange program between the two institutions.

That visit resulted in Heitman and Clayton's participation as speakers at the first International Symposium in Bioethics in San José, Costa Rica, last year.